You could get lost in "The Reckoning Dawn", such is its immaculate, overpowering hugeness. This is WINTERFYLLETH's seventh studio album (assuming you include 2018's acoustic set "The Hallowing of Heirdom" — and you should, because it's brilliant) and it feels big, grand, important; as if the band have finally perfected the wild, windswept cacophony that has earned them near-unassailable status as the UK's premier black metal force. In fact, there has never been a better example of a band that have matured and evolved steadily but purposefully, sticking firmly to passionately held principles in the process. "The Reckoning Dawn" might as well have been self-titled, such is the artful refining and redefining that is going on here: if you have ever enjoyed the band's music in the past, these songs are simply the ultimate manifestation of their sound, their ethos and their melodic, melancholic sensibilities. In a genre that has more than a few lazy mimics and box-ticking drones, WINTERFYLLETH's instantly recognizable barrage is almost embarrassingly commanding.
They've been building up this for a while, of course. Both 2014's "The Divination of Antiquity" and 2016's "The Dark Hereafter" felt like complete, coherent snapshots of a band in a perpetual state of development. Meanwhile, "The Hallowing of Heirdom" was both a beautiful detour and an elegant hint that WINTERFYLLETH are not to be restricted by anyone else's idea of how their music should sound. On "The Reckoning Dawn", we are firmly back in explosive, wall-of-sound black metal territory, and opener "Misdeeds of Faith" is a particularly vicious way to reclaim the blasting throne. But as has long been the case with this band, the excoriating rush of hyperspeed drumming and multi-layered distortion is frequently and deftly brought into contrast by sparkling dynamics, moments of goosebump-inducing fragility and melodies of heart-rending grandeur and sorrow.
For fans craving that sustained roar of resonant evil, "Absolved In Fire" is an obvious highlight: nine minutes of impossibly dramatic extremity that whizzes by in what feels like a fraction of that time, it's as potent and memorable as anything WINTERFYLLETH have recorded. Elsewhere, the delicate acoustic interlude "Betwixt Two Crowns" leads into the gale-force fury of "Yielding The March Law", and this song stakes a sturdy claim to be its creators' most extreme moment to date. And yet its underlying melody fosters serenity and grace amid the clatter of snares and singer/guitarist Chris Naughton's spectral screech. Earlier on the album, "A Hostile Fate (The Wayfarer Pt. 4)" reasserts the Brits' mastery of arcane folk motifs across a gently progressive structural sprawl, while the closing "In Darkness Begotten" weaves haunting, clean vocals through a near-psychedelic six-minute squall of guitars, before transforming into an absurdly bombastic downward descent that mutates into rolling waves of organic strings. It's a stunning climax to an album that delivers everything that diehards could demand, while also propelling WINTERFYLLETH ever further ahead of their peers.